April 15th Is For Charity

Perhaps you already know that it’s better to give money to humanitarian organizations before a disaster strikes. Unfortunately, for organizations like the Red Cross, or Doctors Without Borders/MSF, many people give money right in the wake of a disaster. That means that these organizations have to suddenly ramp up their activity with no warning, without a clear picture of how much money they will have for the projects, and without infrastructure in place.  Since this money is often given with explicit guidance that it be spent in the affected area, it means that these organizations cannot focus on helping people where they can do the most good.

If you do give money specifically to help out in a disaster area, ideally you’d find an organization like Partners in Health (Haiti), which focuses on the affected area and is already active, but such organizations are not always easy to find.  In any case, if you give money to the general funds of a good organization, they’ll be more prepared for future disasters, and able to respond whether or not the disaster receives attention in the Western media.  There are always people in desperate need, but their plight rareky makes headlines.

Even if you know this, it’s easy to let time go by without thinking to make a donation.  Moreover, the longer you wait, the less you’re likely to give.  At least for me, if I give money now, I’ll make a larger donation and compensate by spending less later.  If I leave the money sitting in my bank account, I’ll be less frugal, so that when I make a donation it will be smaller.  To combat my general tendency towards inaction, I need simple guidelines for my own behavior–just as many people have an automatic deposit to their retirement account.

So if, like me, you’re receiving a tax refund this month, it’s the perfect time to make a donation during the brief period when you feel wealthy.  The idea just occurred to me this morning, and I’m hereby resolving to act upon it any year that I receive a refund.  MSF is my charity of choice and where I gave money this morning, but you’re welcome to add others in the comments.

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2 responses to “April 15th Is For Charity

  1. Peter Singer says evidence suggests talking openly about how much you are giving improves giving rates for everyone, so here goes:

    Last tax year (2009), I had the goal of giving away 10% of Jared’s* and my income, but because I quit my job in the middle of the year and I felt stressed about giving away money, we actually only did about 2%. Also, I had a problem calculating because I think in terms of school years not tax years, so I was counting my fall pay as part of next year. Too late to fix it now!

    This year, I still have the goal of giving 10% and have given about $500 so far. However, I am unsure of my employment security for next school year and so I don’t want to overdo it in case I don’t have a job again.

    Some things we give to:

    Unicef
    Unifem
    WNYC/NPR
    Lyons Community School (I used to work there)
    Planned Parenthood
    Just Food (changing food policy in NYC especially getting fresh food to poor neighborhoods)

    *Jared has relinquished participation in deciding where the money goes, but has agreed to the numbers.

  2. Man, let’s just say that I fall quite short of what I wish I did. The last time I had the willpower to give 10% was when I was 10 years old and tithing to the church, and I fell off back then.

    I suppose there are exculpatory factors: Amanda, Norah and I were recently near the poverty line for a family of three. Nonetheless, we often wasted money, and if we’d been more diligent, we would have had more, both for ourselves, and for others. It’s striking how this is an area where prudence and morality can come so close together.

    This is a good time to stress that when I write about charity, I’m not writing from a judgmental stance: sometimes I aim to set out what I believe, as much for my own sake as for persuasion, while other times, like now, I’m interested in the question “how can I best act on what I intellectually believe?”